‘The Pope’ of Dusi pad­dling dies in farm­ing ac­ci­dent

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - NONDUMISO MBUYAZI

FAM­ILY, friends and col­leagues who are mourn­ing the death of le­gendary KwaZulu-Natal ca­noeist, Graeme Pope-El­lis, have de­scribed him as a gen­er­ous and hum­ble man.

Pope-El­lis, 62, who won the Dusi Marathon a record 15 times, died in an ac­ci­dent on Thurs­day evening at his Bish­op­stowe far m, out­side Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

He was driv­ing his trac­tor while plough­ing sug­ar­cane when it rolled on him, killing him.

A small fire sub­se­quently started which alerted a ten­ant on the prop­erty. Pope-El­lis sus­tained neck and head wounds and burns on his back.

Ray de Vries, spokesman for the Dusi, said he last saw PopeEl­lis last week when he rode the Un­lim­ited Dusi Mfula MTB event.

He de­scribed “The Pope”, as Pope-El­lis was af­fec­tion­ately known, as a South African sport­ing icon, for his 15 Dusi wins and the fact that he had pad­dled the epic race 46 con­sec­u­tive times, start­ing in 1965. But he said it was Pope-El­lis’s hu­mil­ity and gen­eros­ity that the ca­noe­ing com­mu­nity would miss the most.

De Vries said Pope-El­lis had taken count­less young­sters un­der his wing, on train­ing and trip­ping ses­sions on the river to teach them the in­tri­ca­cies of the race.

Martin Dreyer, whose ca­noe­ing suc­cess was moulded by Pope-El­lis, said: “When I ar­rived on the scene in 1998 with se­ri­ous plans to get to the top ten, no one re­ally wanted to help be­cause I was a threat, but not Graeme. He took me into his home for months, and showed me ev­ery­thing he knew about the race.

“I couldn’t be­lieve it. There I was, a kid read­ing The Pope’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy in to­tal awe, and he was teach­ing me.”

Dreyer said he had made a pact with Pope-El­lis that he would do the Dusi with him when he was 70. “Sadly I am not go­ing to be able to hon­our that deal,” he said.

Tim Cor­nish, who won four Dusi dou­bles ti­tle with PopeEl­lis, was yes­ter­day still reel­ing in shock at the news. “He was ab­so­lutely metic­u­lous in his prepa­ra­tion. I only had to train and pad­dle with him. Tac­tics, lo­cal knowl­edge, equip­ment and prepa­ra­tion were all taken care of,” he said.

Rick Whit­ton, who won the Grand Mas­ter ti­tle in the 2008 and Hansa Pow­er­ade Dusi with Pope-El­lis in a record time, said: ”He was the kind of guy that you just as­sumed would live for­ever. He was so pos­i­tive about ev­ery­thing, whether it was his wife and fam­ily, his busi­ness, his sport or his friends. In all the years I knew Graeme, I never once saw him fail to make time for a stranger or a young­ster and a novice pad­dler who wanted to chat to him or ask a ques­tion,” said Whit­ton.

Cur­rent Olympian and for­mer win­ner of the Hansa Pow­er­ade Dusi ju­nior ti­tle, Shaun Rubenstein, said: “I was the proud­est guy in the world when I used to be taken to my judo com­pe­ti­tions by the Dusi King. It was when I de­cided to give the Dusi a shot at 15 that he re­ally took me un­der his wing and taught me so much.”

Rubenstein said Pope-El­lis and his wife, Wendy, were like par­ents to him. “They opened their homes and their hearts to me. When I won the world marathon cham­pi­onships, the first per­son I phoned from France af­ter my par­ents was Graeme Pope-El­lis.

“Graeme made me who I am to­day as a pad­dler. He taught me the work ethic I fol­low to­day, and, even though he wasn’t a sprinter, he took such a keen, en­thu­si­as­tic in­ter­est in my ca­reer. I can still hear that croak in his voice when I phoned him to tell him that I had qual­i­fied for the Olympics,” added Rubenstein.

Pope-El­lis is sur­vived by his wife Wendy and his son Lee.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.